Saturday, May 30, 2009

Exploring Gokova

On the flight home, Frances turned to me and asked "can we do this again next May?" - this was the result I was looking for, I have found a formula for sharing paddlesport with my better half - sun, gentle paddling, deserted beaches and chilled days in foreign waters.

There were a few moments during the week when I thought the plan might not work. The time when she called out to me "there's a bloke up there with a gun calling us" (we had wandered into a military zone) and the afternoon when a force 5 had picked up a 2 metre swell (but we were camped on a sheltered island)

But, exploring the Gulf of Gokova, in South West Turkey, with a couple of rented sea kayaks proved an excellent week

The Region
Turkeys South West Coast where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean Sea is often referred to as the Turquoise Coast on account of its azure seas – tempted!. A quick browse of Google Earth will reveal a rugged, pine forested coastline with lots of inlets, bays and islands.

We explored the Gulf of Gokova, which lies 40 minutes North of Marmaris (and a couple of hours drive from Dalaman Airport). This area offered a comparatively wild and remote coastline with many small beaches in sheltered bays - with little or no road access or settlement within the expanse of pine forest
The region is very quiet – no one around except the odd fisherman and passing yachts and Gulets (the latter, are beautiful yachts carrying tourists from the Turkish resorts on day or week excursions)
The paddling – conditions and climate/weatherIn late May we enjoyed cloudless skies and temperatures in the low 30’s. The prevailing winds are North West and normally pick up in the afternoons to force 3/4. On a few days these generated a significant swell (to 2 metres) – but can easily be avoided in the sheltered bays
We were on holiday, not on ‘an expedition’, and enjoyed a leisurely paddling routine. Up with the dawn, packed up and away between 07:00 and 08:00, paddling (with stops) through to 13:00 and then lounging around the chosen beach camp for the rest of the day. Take a tarp for shade

There is no shortage of beaches suitable for camping. All are of similar character, narrow and pebbly (don’t forget sleeping mats), often with some shade afforded by scattered pine trees and vegetation. The nature of the thick scrub behind the beach makes it difficult to explore beyond the fringe
Unexpectedly we found rubbish a big issue. Almost all beaches are cluttered with washed up debris. Vast quantities of plastic line the shore. At first we found this disturbing, but quickly became accustomed to executing a quick tidy-up and ‘litter pick’ before establishing each camp. A word of warning, however, the debris may include a fair share of fishing tackle and a barbed hook in a foot on this remote coastline would (and almost did, in our case) bring your holiday to a swift endThe pine tree forests of this region are plagued by fires throughout the summer. While, for this reason, I believe fires are forbidden in the area, we built small contained fires on the pebbles each night – but well away from any vegetation

This area of South West turkey is reputed to be teeming with birdlife, but the particular stretch of coast that we explored had surprisingly little (only gulls and cormorants) The insect life proved much more interesting with many species of arachnids (some beautiful some looking decidedly mean).

There were a few mosquitoes and horse flies about but too few to cause a problem. Snorkelling proved a pleasant way of passing the hot afternoons. Lots of urchins and fish but no colourful reefs

An outfit called “Alternatif Outdoor” established in 1991 will, in addition to running guided tours, rent sea kayaks and gear out to ‘independents’. We took our own paddles, PFDs and camping equipment and hired boats (Prijon Seayaks) and decks from Alternatif. If we hadn’t been so fussy we could have hired everything we needed. But, take your own maps and charts (we laminated Google Earth maps) – the charts that Alternatif can supply are very limited. Surprisingly we had good mobile reception everywhere we went. We took a VHF but never used it.

Alternatif Outdoor Kenan Evren Bulvar, Camlik Sok. 10/1, Marmaris, Mugla, Turkey Tel 00 90 252 417 2720 Email: Web:
Everything you are likely to need can be purchased in Marmaris before you leave. Shops are open 7 days a week and bread, pasta, tuna, fruit, vegetables, snacks etc. can all be purchased from the small supermarkets. We had to carry sufficient water for 5 days 30 litres (6 x 5 litre bottles) proved just right. Theoretically, we might have been able to acquire water at ‘Ali’s place’ (tucked away down the deep inlet of Kargili Koyu) on the 4th day, or scrounge some from one of the yachts
Ahmet, who was driving us and our boats to the get in, laughed at our smiles as we left Marmaris in the rear view mirror. He remembered, just 20 or so years ago, when Marmaris was a sleepy fishing harbour. Now, there’s only a tiny scrap of the original character remaining, the rest has been swallowed up by the ever growing tourist resort development. Restaurants and clubs vie for your custom, a ‘Full English’ breakfast available at every corner to aid your recovery after a night of Karaoke and foam parties. While 24 hours at either end of our trip was more than enough time here, Marmaris is not entirely devoid of charm, set within a beautiful bay and kept remarkably clean and tidy

Getting There
Flights from the UK to Dalaman Airport are frequent – and shuttle buses from the airport to Marmaris are cheap and easy

Sadly the ‘bucket airlines’ don’t fly to Dalaman and we couldn’t find flights cheaper than £300 (indeed, the cheapest we found came with apartment rooms in Marmaris thrown in!). Alternatif charge 30 Euros a day for each sea kayak (including paddles, deck, PFD, bilge pump). This, together with the 75 Euros for transfers at the beginning and end of the trip means that the whole holiday doesn’t come particularly cheap – but we would still recommend it!

More Photos here

Published in "Canoe & Kayak UK" Magazine September 2009